Charles Dudley Warner and the newspaper

town crier Once upon a time ago the only means of receiving news was via the “mouthpiece” of a town crier… a person who because he could read and probably had a loud voice, would go about the town, stand in a designated location and impart to the public information from the King; where upon he would then “post” it on a door of an inn or other such place. It is said that he was protected by law since not all the news was greeted with civility. (Hence the expression, “Don’t shoot the messenger!”) And then, there was the invention of the mechanical printing press…thank you Mr. Gutenberg, a most ingenious fellow from Germany who opened the world of local news into mass communication in the 15th century… the printing revolution had begun…though it was a most laborious but effective means of reproduction. And as technology progressed, so has the system of mass producing; no longer are small blocks of letters needed to be placed individually to create independent words, but the voice of the writer now is digitally set.

There are very few places where the newspaper hasn’t graced our lives. For centuries news has magically appeared in the wee hours of the morning just waiting to be unfolded and read. They have traveled with us on the subway, found morning coffee dripped upon their pages , rolled up for an occasional disciplinary tool for that naughty puppy, lain flat across the bottom of the canary cage , and even insulated newborns in bitter cold apartments. The newspaper has dotted our lawns, provided job security for countless youth, and even though scoffed at for staining our finger tips with ink…it has been like a friend who not always tells us what we want to hear.

However, the 21st century has not been kind to our faithful companion, who even expanded its “greetings” to early and late editions. Folks today have changed their habits; like those who once ate a wholesome breakfast at the kitchen table, presently have little patience for even a café grande” in the car. So it appears that taking time to peruse a newspaper has diminished into moments to scan paperless waves ….

Charles Dudley Warner _2 Today’s blog reinstates esteemed thinker: Charles Dudley Warner to the forefront; friend to Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain; he is a noted and accomplished 19th century essayist and writer. Extracted from his essay “American Newspaper” I give you his “clever” writing that will take you on a cerebral sabbatical away from the hustle bustle of the day.

“… Yet it must be confessed that here is one of the greatest difficulties of modern journalism. The newspaper must be cheap. It is, considering the immense cost to produce it, the cheapest product ever offered to man. Most newspapers cost more than they sell for; they could not live by subscriptions; for any profits, they certainly depend upon advertisements. The advertisements depend upon the circulation; the circulation is likely to dwindle if too much space is occupied by advertisements, or if it is evident that the paper belongs to its favored advertisers. The counting-room desires to conciliate the advertisers; the editor looks to making a paper satisfactory to his readers. Between this see-saw of the necessary subscriber and the necessary advertiser, a good many newspapers go down. This difficulty would be measurably removed by the admission of the truth that the newspaper is a strictly business enterprise, depending for success upon a ‘quid pro quo’ between all parties connected with it, and upon integrity in its management…

The power of the press,” as something to be feared or admired, is a favorite theme of dinner-table orators and clergymen”… The power of the press is in its facility for making public opinions and events. I should say it is a medium of force rather than force itself. I confess that I am oftener impressed with the powerlessness of the press than otherwise, its slight influence in bringing about any reform, or in inducing the public to do what is for its own good and what it is disinclined to do..

The publication of the news is the most important function of the paper. How is it gathered? We must confess that it is gathered very much by chance. A drag-net is thrown out, and whatever comes is taken. An examination into the process of collecting shows what sort of news we are likely to get, and that nine-tenths of that printed is collected without much intelligence exercised in selection. The alliance of the associated press with the telegraph company is a fruitful source of news of an inferior quality. Of course, it is for the interest of the telegraph company to swell the volume to be transmitted. It is impossible for the associated press to have an agent in every place to which the telegraph penetrates: therefore the telegraphic operators often act as its purveyors. It is for their interest to send something; and their judgment of what is important is not only biased, but is formed by purely local standards. Our news, therefore, is largely set in motion by telegraphic operators, by agents trained to regard only the accidental, the startling, the abnormal, as news; it is picked up by sharp prowlers about town, whose pay depends upon finding something, who are looking for something spicy and sensational, or which may be dressed up and exaggerated to satisfy an appetite for novelty and high flavor, and who regard casualties as the chief news. Our newspapers every day are loaded with accidents, casualties, and crimes concerning people of whom we never heard before and never shall hear again, the reading of which is of no earthly use to any human being…
And there is scarcely ever a cause, or an opinion, or a man, that does not get somewhere in the press a hearer and a defender. We will drop the subject with one remark for the benefit of whom it may concern. With all its faults, I believe the moral tone of the American newspaper is higher, as a rule, than that of the community in which it is published…”

4 thoughts on “Charles Dudley Warner and the newspaper

  1. Clever indeed… I love listening to old newsreels and reading old newspapers (I’ve spent many an hour at the library doing just that!), when they actually reported facts and left out much of the speculation. I don’t even watch the news or read it, outside of browsing the headlines on the internet. A very interesting post, thank you!

  2. His observations/thoughts on how news is gathered and distributed, have not changed a great deat, from his period to the present day. Obviously the technology has changed, yet the copy is pretty much the same.
    The “Moral tone”, which he speaks of, has certainly taken a nose dive. As a former Paparazzo, I take some of the responsibility for peddling smut, as opposed to news. Still…
    The world is a much more desensitized place today. However is ideal is a great one, and one we should reclaim and hold dear. Charles Dudley Warner, an “Esteemed Thinker” indeed.

    • Thank you for reading my post and for your astute comments! It is always a pleasure get your ‘take’ on things. Yes…It appears that often things remain static as with Warner’s observations! Regards!

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